The Undisputed Truth

Essential Collection

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As is usually the case, Motown's European division and its licensors have been more active than their American counterparts, which is why this 19-song, 78-minute compilation surfaced in 2002, a year before the U.S.-issued 12-song Smiling Faces: The Best of the Undisputed Truth. All 14 of the singles that were issued in America are represented, along with selected B-sides and album tracks, for a slightly more comprehensive overview of the group's output -- "Ball of Confusion (That's What the World Is Today)" and "Poontang" are missing, but in their place are some equally worthy cuts, mostly notably the group's poignant nine-minute rendition of "What's Going On." Obviously, along with being a cross-section of the group's sound, this compilation gives us a good look at Norman Whitfield's altering sensibilities, and the changes that American soul underwent during the four years represented. By 1972, the Undisputed Truth had moved into louder, bolder, more funk-oriented sounds (with the exceptions of "Smiling Faces Sometimes," "Papa Was a Rolling Stone," and their version of "What's Going On"); away from socially significant songs, and into more of a pure dance mode -- not that these aren't extraordinary dance productions; they are. Most notable is "Law of the Land," with its pounding, larger-than-life rhythm section and swooping, soaring orchestral accompaniment. The sound is excellent throughout, especially on the later cuts. The solo electric guitar on "What's Going On," with its mix of trills and rhythm fills, is virtually isolated on its own separate channel, and is almost worth the price of the disc by itself. Its presence here is also a subtle tribute to Whitfield's influence on Motown: he was, after all, responsible for convincing Berry Gordy that there was room for two different hit versions of "I Heard It Through the Grapevine," when Gordy thought there wasn't room for one, and the original "What's Going On" was another case of Gordy almost missing the boat on something new, daring, important, and wonderful, and here was a sincere attempt to reshape that song from the bottom up. Only on the later tracks, such as "UFO's," "Higher Than High," and "Boogie Bump Boogie," do inspiration and subtlety seem to desert the band's sound, but they get it back for "Let's Go Back to Day One."

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